In the spring of 1965, a friend named Ruben Garcia told me he listened to Houston Astros baseball games on the radio. I didn't like baseball and didn't listen much to the radio, but for some reason what he told me caused me to tune in. Almost immediately, I got hooked, and my brother Joe soon got hooked, too. For several years, Astros' radio broadcasts were the soundtrack to our summers. Every night, we would tune in the game on KNAL, the local AM station, sometimes out on the screen porch, usually in our room. When we were away from home, we would search desperately for a signal, sometimes sitting out at night in the mosquito-infested car because the car radio could pull in WWL ("Way down yonder in New Orleans") when all else failed.
When the Astros played on the West Coast, we would lie in bed with the lights out, listening to games from San Francisco and Los Angeles. I vividly remember Willie Mays at the bat in extra innings one late night, no doubt saying to himself, "This game ends here," then fouling off a half-dozen pitches before hitting a game-ending home run. We heard back-to-back no-hitters (Jim Maloney and Don Wilson) and followed Joe Morgan's rookie year on his way to the Hall of Fame. One memorable night, we fell asleep during a home game against the Mets and woke up hours later, with the game still playing on the radio. The Astros finally won, 1-0, in 24 innings, 41 years ago last week.
Gene Elston, a consummate pro who is now in his 80s, was the anchor of that broadcast crew, with Loel Passe, who died in 1997, as the No. 2 man and Harry Kalas, just two years into his first big league job, calling a couple of the middle innings each night. Last week, Kalas, 73, died. But I have missed his voice for a long, long time.